Home & Living

Get Your Green On

Here’s our short list of experts on environmentally responsible building.

Toxin-free insulation, recycled countertops, energy-saving windows, and solar panels—they’re all part of the green building movement that first hit its stride 20 years ago among commercial builders (who were thinking energy savings and green tax credits, of course).

But, at long last, residential builders are seeing a real boom in demand for green homes, and not just among aging hippies—looks like that feeling-sorry-for-the-planet thing is going mainstream.

For homeowners hankering to do an earth-friendly and energy-saving project—large or small, new construction or retrofit—we went in search of builders, architects, and local suppliers whose business is environmentally smart solutions. Here are nine experts to consider.


16626 Cedar Grove Road, Sparks, 410-472-7072

Polly Bart had “a mountaintop moment” in 2002. After a varied career as a policy analyst for the Carter administration, a commercial real-estate agent, and a rehabber, she moved from downtown to a farm in the country, only to find that some species of trees were in distress, frogs were disappearing from her pond, and invasive plants were taking over the grounds.

“I wanted my professional life to fight that,” she says.

Now a remodeler and a builder, Bart is something of a green guru, as owner of the 13-year-old Greenbuilders.

Her work runs the gamut from kitchen remodels to whole-house renovations—and in her free time, she’s putting a thatched roof on an outbuilding on her 34-acre farm. Bart’s projects have included building a parks and recreation headquarters using straw bale construction and green roofs designed to provide habitats for birds, bees, and butterflies, and to absorb rainwater.

Brennan + Company Architects

8333 Main St., Second Floor, Ellicott City, 410-313-8310

The portfolio of Brennan + Company Architects, headquartered in a historic building on Main Street in Ellicott City that they renovated, includes its share of commercial projects, but owner and principal architect Rob Brennan says residential work is the 29-year-old firm’s “bread and butter.”

Associate principal Carri Beer says a lot of her early work was limited to using materials like cork, bamboo, and recycled glass. Now, she says, some of her projects are more complex. Clients in Western Maryland, for example, “want to live off the grid.”

Since few residential projects in the U.S. involve hiring architects, the company markets itself by trying to educate contractors on the merits of switching to environmentally safe materials and practices, such as avoiding carcinogenic insulation foam that may take up to 500 years to biodegrade.

Emory Knoll Farms

3410 Ady Road, Street, 410-452-5880

Emory Knoll Farms, a fifth-generation family farm in northern Harford County, was a traditional working farm—including a stint as a dairy farm—for much of its life. Now, it’s home to Green Roof Plants, the nation’s first nursery dedicated solely to growing and selling vegetation for green roofs.

The 10-acre nursery, owned by Ed Snodgrass, who co-authored the 2011 book Small Green Roofs: Low-Tech Options for Greener Living, has several greenhouses (each named for a famous blues musician, from Howlin’ Wolf and B.B. King to Bessie Smith and Bonnie Raitt) sheltering long rows of plants (which typically sell for $45 for a flat of 72 plants). Boasting more than 100 species, Green Roof Plants has supplied plants not only for residential roofs but also for the tops of office buildings, schools, and hotels, including the Hilton in downtown Baltimore.

Baldwin Homes

2410 Evergreen Road, Ste. 104, Gambrills, 410-721-0101

A subdivision of custom-built luxury homes is rising from the woods of Gambrills in Anne Arundel County. You say, “So what?” These homes, however, are good examples of the momentum of the residential green-building movement.

What’s unusual about this development is that all of the homes are engineered to be environmentally responsible and sustainable, says Mike Baldwin, owner and president of Baldwin Homes, which began developing the subdivision, called The Preserve at Severn Run, in 2004. The newest home, designed by Annapolis-based architect Kathy Purple Cherry, carries five major green certifications, including LEED and Energy Star. (Homeowners who build to the highest green standard qualify for a tax credit, Baldwin says.) “We wanted to show people that green isn’t just grass on a roof,” Baldwin says.

The four-bedroom, five-bathroom eco-model doubles as a demonstration model to show how a custom green residence is built, from solar water heating, tightly insulated walls, countertops that are mostly made of recycled material, and triple-pane windows, to bathroom floors made of recycled tiles, zoned central air conditioning, fiberglass columns that resemble wood, and an outdoor swale to reduce runoff into streams.

SM+P Architects

1016 Morton St., 410-685-3582

Architect Tom Gamper, a senior associate for SM+P Architects, has planted a proverbial green flag in the 2200 block of Callow Avenue.

There, in the shadow of Whitelock Community Farm, a thriving urban farm in the Reservoir Hill neighborhood, Gamper is leading a federal-, state-, and city-funded effort to restore nine vacant row houses using environmentally sound and energy-efficient construction methods.

“This is pretty special in terms of gut rehabs,” Gamper says of the project. The local grantee is Healthy Neighborhoods, and community partners include the Druid Heights Community Development Corp., a client of Gamper “I don’t think there are that many projects like this in the city.”

Conservation Technology

2233 Huntingdon Ave., 410-366-1146

Green roofs aren’t just about soil and plants. They also involve drainage systems, engineered soils, and aluminum edges.

All are components that Lee Jaslow sells as president of Remington-based Conservation Technology.

Jaslow started the company in 1984, focusing in the first 15 years on residential projects.

Among Conservation Technology’s areas of specialization are storm-water management and rainwater-harvesting systems, especially in parts of the U.S. that have limited water resources. One of the systems is in Baltimore’s Leakin Park. Another company niche is aesthetic in nature: making landscaped waterfalls and streams that look natural.

Jaslow adds that residential green roofs are usually only cost-effective for people building a new house or doing a major renovation. “Green roofs are fairly complicated,” he says. “Most companies that do it won’t do residential. If the customer just wants to spend a couple of hundred bucks, it’s rain barrels or bust.”

Amicus Green Building Center

4080A Howard Ave., Kensington, 301-571-8590

Think of the Amicus Green Building Center as one-stop shopping for anything environmentally friendly that you need to build a house or an addition, or to redesign your kitchen or bathroom.

Need cork flooring? Owner Jason Holstine says he carries about 200 kinds in his long, narrow showroom, ranging in price from $4-8 per square foot. He also stocks soy-based paint strippers and concrete finishes, deck finishes made of waste from cheese-making, and insulation made from recycled steel and volcanic rock. Or you can pick up some carpet made of wool or recycled soda bottles, tile fabricated from recycled glass, pesticide-free lawn-care products, and energy-efficient windows.

Gabrielli Design Studio

2224 Crest Road, 410-530-0389

While raising her teenage son, architect Julie Gabrielli is content to run Gabrielli Design Studio out of her house in Mount Washington. But Gabrielli, who previously co-founded Terra Logos, an architectural design and consulting business, is well-known in what she calls the “small community” of residential green designers and builders.

It is, indeed, a tight-knit community: She has done several projects with Polly Bart of Greenbuilders and architect Carri Beer, who now works for Brennan + Company but who used to work for Terra Logos. For a recent kitchen remodel, Gabrielli and Bart bought supplies from Amicus Green Building Center. And when Gabrielli was doing commercial projects 25 years ago, she bought supplies from Lee Jaslow at Conservation Technology.

“Everyone in the industry knows one another,” she says.

European Landscape and Design

1412 Railroad Ave., Lutherville, 410-296-3162

Glen Gutierrez seems embarrassed to be linked with the residential green-construction industry, as if he were somehow unworthy.

“People think landscapers are naturally green,” says Gutierrez, owner of European Landscape and Design. “I think it’s a great misnomer.”

Gutierrez, however, has a green soul that extends beyond specializing in fine stonework, horticultural services, distinctive gardens, rain gardens, backyard design, waterfalls, ponds, and permeable driveways. He uses organic fertilizers and eschews any weed killers with chemicals—his staff sometimes uses a spray of vinegar, detergent, and Epsom salt instead.

A three-time winner of the best-in-show landscape design award at the Maryland Home & Garden Show, Gutierrez wants he and his staff of about 17 to expand into restoring native habitats and doing green roofs.

“I’m getting more involved,” he says of his focus on sustainable solutions. So we’re calling him a green expert, whether he likes it or not.